Archive for July, 2010

Wings of Steel

July 27, 2010

The rain falls straight down this summer, and the sun sucks it up again – muggy and still, day after day.  So when Canadian air broke through yesterday morning, I slipped the surly bonds of a fully-scheduled Monday, and by 7:30 I was fully loaded with iced-down food, layers of clothing, and a goal of Rockland by sunset, some 75 kliks away (just over 40 miles).

The morning breeze was fickle, but definitely WNW, pushing the boat onto the dock, requiring that I maneuver it around with the lines, backing it down off the end, throwing the bow line aboard, and using the stern line first as a lever to pull the stern in to bring the bow through the wind, then as a sling shot imparting some forward momentum.  This procedure – a complex way of avoiding turning on the engine – involves grabbing the mizzen stays to jump aboard at the last possible second and vaulting into the cockpit to tighten the sails and catch the wind – no steenking engine for me!  (I did actually turn it on later when things got hairy just to make sure it was working today – discretion is the better part of valor.)

The fishermen are out in force in the river, so I dance between the lobster boats, seeking out the back-eddies in the rising tide that tries to set me back. But the wind is coming over the beam, the easiest point of sail, and by 9am I am skimming past the Devil’s Washbowl, and by 9:10 I am turning left – sorry, easing to port – around the rocky end of Thrumcap, the last string in the Thread of Life. (With no light on the end of Thrumcap, ships often floundered there, and surviving sailors had to swim from island to ledge to Crow Island, the last in the chain, where they could call to the mainland for help – hence the Thread of Life.  The biggest gap, about 50 meters of swirling sea, which I have sailed through with my heart in my mouth, is called the Needle’s Eye.)

This is the open sea, and there should be a swell, but with such a leaden atmosphere this last week, there is nothing.  Just as I turn the real wind arrives.  For the next 5 hours I am stuck to the binnacle and the charging wheel, a pound of cherries and a jug of water the only thing I can reach. With no swell, I barrel along at 6 knots.  At 11, I had the chance to stop at Allen Island, the home of the Wyeth family.  Tycha and I pass through the harbor between the two islands.  Andrew is gone now, of course, but Betsy is keeping the place up well, and it is a pleasant place to stop for breakfast, with a mooring and a view of the 19th century community (in terms of architecture, I have no idea how they order their lives) – spare salt-box capes with clapboards silvery with sea-salt, a curvy greenhouse the only nod to modernity, a flock of island sheep to keep the brush down – they have built over the years.  When the Wyeths are done with it, someone will turn it into an island retreat.

But I am too excited to stop yet, so on the other side of the harbor I set it wing-and-wing – the jib on one side, the main on the other (the Germans call it schmetterlink – butterfly) – with the mizzen strapped in the middle so it doesn’t skew the stern around.  Straight downwind, especially in a stiff breeze, is a difficult point of sail, but I have to get past Old Cilley, another boat catcher: a long, low ledge just under the surface, in this tide a swirl of white water in the chop that the wind is beginning to create.  As I clear Burnt, Monhegan stands tall in the clear air to my right, the top of a mountain from the sea floor, the last one before the clean line of horizon.  To my left, the safety of Port Clyde inside the ledge and some protecting islands – but no, no run for safety yet.

As I turn left another 20 degrees to begin the long run up into Penobscot Bay, the wind chimes up a notch, maybe 25 miles an hour, gusting to over 30.  I don my life vest and hook it to the life lines – this is the most exhilarating sailing, but can turn to a dangerous mess in a minute if something parts.  I briefly wish I had reefed earlier, but then I find the groove and we barrel along at over 7 knots on a broad reach past Mosquito Head and Tenant’s Harbor.

As I approach Whitehead, with its lighthouse on a brow of granite, the wind is compressed as if through a funnel.  For several minutes I really wish I’d reefed, as the wind is so strong that I cannot hold the boat on course, and Tycha and I are forced to veer up into the wind and toward the sloping granite of Whitehead, sails flapping dangerously. (Although it does the sails no good to snap and flap like that, there is little danger of the fabric coming apart – although that did happen to me once in Montana, of all places to be sailing.  The danger is in the hardware – that violent shaking can break a fitting, or a shackle works loose or a pin breaks and suddenly you have a mess on your hands without a lot of sea room to fix it.)

No sea room, and lots of other boats, most less equipped than I to deal with this wind, or so it seems, for these lighter, newer boats are no good in heavy breezes, and several are dropping their sails in wrinkled messes onto the booms, and struggling out of the fray with their engines.  Whitehead is the entrance to the Muscle Ridge Channel, where I was sure to get some respite, but no, after a brief reduction behind Whitehead’s protective arm, it set the chop green out of Seal Cove, and I was rail under, standing on her cockpit sides, trying to maintain a steady-ish course and avoid those who were erratically coming up into the wind to flap, and then falling off again to be flattened sideways.

Sailing these channels one goes from one avoidance to another – Yellow Rock, Clam Islands, between the green spindle on Gardner’s Ledge and the red one on Otter Island.    Thank God for the GPS, as I could not sail the boat in this weather and consult a chart to plot a new course every five minutes.  At Ash, with three buoys in a row marking its outcrops, I really am cornered by one of these ‘Clorox bottles’ (our derisive name for the modern sailboats – high-sided, plenty of room inside, but not much for sailing) got turned up into my path by a gust, forcing me first up toward the rocks, but as that got too hairy, I turned and ran down below them.  Turning your back to 30 mph of wind is not fun, poised on danger if it gybes around, but it was only for a minute, and I got back on my beam reach , but shaking – ‘You shouldn’t be out in this if you can’t handle the boat,’ I mutter, but hell, I am on my edge too, and I am out here, all sails set when I should have shortened sail long ago.

By the time I am at Owl’s Head, a mostly fishing village inside Monroe, I have had enough for a moment – spotting a mooring I decide this would be a great time for a little something.  The current is pouring down the channel, and the mooring spot is shaded from most of the breeze, so after a couple of tries of doing my usual – coming up into the wind to stop dead (you hope) right at the mooring – and having it not work, I remember my lessons from the British Yachtmaster course, and veer away, drop the main, and come downwind (but uptide) on the mooring, letting the jib fly as I reach it to grab the pennant.  It is a small motorboat mooring, so I set the mizzen just right to keep the boat balanced between the current and the wind, so it tugs only lightly on the mooring.  It’s 2 o’clock, and I have been at the wheel for 6 1/2 hours straight. I could use something other than cherries and water – literally the only things I could reach for the last 6 hours. Time for making the boat shipshape – the ropes are a mess – making a boat sandwich (lots of everything, as much as you can hold between two slices of bread) and a few phone calls to the folks I left in the lurch.

Replete and rested by 3, I dropped the mooring, let the current ease me back away from it, and then set the jib to nose on out into the channel, where the wind catches me again.  As I round the light on Owl’s Head, I am by now hard on the wind (meaning close-hauled, all the sails pulled in as tightly as possible, sailing as close to the wind direction as God allows), so I can let the main sheet go and raise the main while I am underway.  A bit tough in this wind, but I git ‘er done and change my destination for Rockport instead of Rockland (no shortage of rocks around here – Stonington is just across the bay), horsing across the fetch of Rockland harbor and finally into the relative calm of the long sleeve that is Rockport.

I cannot bear to turn on the engine after such a fine day without it, but trying to maneuver the inner harbor by sail in this wind with such a crowd of boats in the mooring field sounds challenging, although it might well result in damage to someone’s boat, even mine.  So I settle for an easy pick-up of an outer mooring and a long upwind row to shore and my ride back to the real world.

No whales or porpoises – hardly any seals in that spumy chop, but the feeling I carry home in the car is like that of having been out dancing all night – tired, spent, satisfied.  And indeed, a boat is a device for dancing between the wind and the water – the heavier element that nevertheless moves prettily out of the way of the hull, and the lighter element that takes on the character of steel itself when it gets up to these speeds and comes in contact with the sail.

Wings of Steel I call my sails, sewn last year by Nate Wilson down river here.  The name comes from a Japanese fairy tale.

More than 40 miles in 8 hours, with an hour out for lunch and a nap.  Nothing like it, finest kind.



July 23, 2010

A fellow New Englander (and thus subject to that special kind of guilt) E. B. White wrote that: I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

Yesterday I quoted that dilemma to my class, and expanded it into three, adding the desire to heal one’s family.  My desire to improve the world causes me to create and be present in this class about doing movement work with kids; my desire to enjoy the world is currently expressed in my favorite art – that of dancing between wind and water on this startlingly beautiful coast.  With the boat practically snorting as it horses against the mooring pennant in the northwest breeze that is bringing clear blue air to our soggy, muggy souls, my yearning to saddle up and head to sea was a physical tug.

But my beloved is in a bad way, a sharp fall in her energy after being in the best shape she’s been in years, and this tug was the strongest of all.  By mid-afternoon I wasn’t responding well to any of these three prerogatives – not managing the class well, certainly not appreciative of the world’s beauty, and not attending to my shaky partner.  So I gave up on E. B.’s choices and went for the third, leaving the class for Jim to teach, leaving the students to handle Jim, and went to wrap my arms around my poor vertiginous wife.

After a doctor’s appointment to set up some tests came a phone call with the funny little man whose encyclopedic knowledge and voluble display of it hides a keen and sensitive observer, as well as a talented healer who knows the depths to which one may fall.  “Humble yourself” Quan said (he’s a student of mine, and outwardly unprepossesing) and I am glad I did, for he seems to have unwound one of those dilemmas / arguments / Gordian knots that every couple I know winds themselves up in – the neuroses winding together over the years, positions hardening into a fibroid in the otherwise fecund relationship.

In this long call, which on the surface was about the details of cranial nerves and capnagraphy, he actually performed an hypnotic induction that synthesized Quan’s and my points of view, leaving us both with hope and work to do, but we are whistling happy to do the work if we see a path forward.  It’s the blindness at the end of a cul-de-sac that drives us both crazy.

So this morning I no longer feel torn asunder – Quan will attend to the animals and people in her care, I will return whole-heartedly to class, appreciating the world on the way (the sailboat, alas, will have to wait for its exercise), and we will work together to a new way of handling handling our individual and dyadic system.

Integration – what we hope to induce with our work – comes from unexpected quarters in unsought ways; indeed, such baraka, such grace or blessing is hard to produce at will, even with years of training and experience.  But without humbling oneself – keep it in the first person, Tom, without humbling yourself – it is hard for God’s cannonballs of change to penetrate the oaken sides of our pride.

Thank the Lord the feminine is still alive in me.  With all I have to manage – or fancy I do, anyway – the masculine gods within me sometimes threaten the female gods with banishment, but this morning I feel the balance again and can approach the tripartite dilemma with inclusive arms.

Thank the Lord for women.

Disaster Capitalism

July 5, 2010

Such a synchromesh trip I had yesterday from England to the US of A that we rounded the corner onto the bridge in my hometown just as darkness fell, in time to see the full fireworks display – the July 4th symbol of our bid for freedom from the oppressive boot of the British – exploding over the harbor.  Now, I am a total kid for fireworks – what an invention! To see the streaking reds and greens reflected in the water, and watching the gold coins fall through the sky under spiraling moths of white flame, the thumping finale a riot of colour.

Anyone who knows me well or knows me for a long time knows I am a positive person, an optimist with a similarly kid-like gung-ho patriotism for the possibility that is America.  Our charter documents are pinnacle statements of 18th century Enlightenment philosophy, imitated but unequaled since by any burgeoning country.  Despite our bad history with slavery and genocide of the indigenous, the promise of what the USA could be has held me since I first watched these displays growing up in Eisenhower’s fifties.  Even during the protests of Nixon’s sixties and beyond, it was America improved I sought, and not America dismantled.  I was incorrectly labeled a ‘Communist outside agitator’; my agitation was very much an internal matter: “America, live up to your constitutional principles.”  The Beatles said it: “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…” Even now, I have zero interest in promoting any –ism.

Those who know me more recently will be forgiven for their surprise at the above paragraph, given how often I express my rage, frustration, and discouragement at the Wal-Mart cheap, Burger King fat, robot-drone warmonger we have become.  We compare unfavourably in so many ways to the old European colonial powers, reborn after World War II as vibrant social democracies.  We compare unfavourably to Japan and even many developing countries have got it more together in terms of their ‘social engagement’.  We have become a bloated bully, unable to protect the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of Aden, a teetering empire on the edge of decline, a Rome waiting for the Visigoths, regardless (alas, we voted last time with such hope) of who is president.

In the jaded atmosphere of the early 21st century, I am as ready as the next to believe the worst (aren’t these Russian spies and Parliamentary scandals fun?), but that does not extend to grand conspiracy theories.  I don’t know how 9/11 went down, but while the idea of the Freemasons or aliens or the Trilateral Commission or the Illuminati running things behind the scenes has an easy appeal it does not really stand up to scrutiny – the forces of history are too great and the twists of external events too capricious for a small group to exert such total control for so long without being exposed, or so I believed.

But I have come as close as I care to in these last days: my daughter, disturbed by my defense of free markets in one of our free-wheeling sociopolitical discussions, handed me The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein ( to take with me to England.  Jesus, what a gob-smacking belly punch of a book!  Trenchant writing and undeniable research chart the pathway back from the Keynesian bargain of the New Deal to the horror of Afghanistan and Iraq and America’s helplessness in the face of its own tromping feet.  The book brilliantly weaves and parallels the themes of individual torture and its effects, to similar principles applied to whole national economies and cultures.

Individual torture such as electroshock therapy and the other methods derived from the 50’s research breaks down personality structure, erases memory, and causes regression.  (Klein’s recounting of this line of ‘research’ is fascinating in itself, but she doubles down and applies it in a much larger context:)  Shock therapies to economies do the same to cultures.  This realization by followers of the Chicago School of Economics has allowed a wholesale but largely un-noticed shift in our operating philosophies, our levers of power, and the results for the happy few on the inside and the unhappy many on the outside.

Misty’s mum Giselle is involved with trauma work for individuals, bringing them back from the confusion and disorientation that overwhelming events visit upon the body.  This book documents the deliberate application of shock and overwhelming events to societies in a blatant attempt to remake them.

Starting from the CIA-inspired coups of the democratically elected Mossadegh, replaced with the brutal Shah of Iran, leading directly to the Iranian revolution and our current set of troubles there.  The second, the assassination of Salvador Allende in Chile, led to a ‘shock therapy’ on Chile’s economy and society in the form of American-supported Augusto Pinochet, whose reign of terror provided the first ‘blank slate’ for the Friedman theory of untrammeled markets.

Except of course in practice they are not free or un-manipulated at all (as I would argue back to Misty, in defense not of Friedmanism but of the evolutionary nature of truly free market forces); the theories are simply a front for the feudal use of power by trans-national companies like United Fruit, Monsanto, Bechtel, Halliburton, and other war profiteers.  Even war itself has become a profitable industry, as has health care, the post office, the transport systems – so many resources, that should be the world’s ‘commons’ belonging to the larger community, have instead been sold off cheaply to industry under the cover of whatever crisis comes next in the name of security and free markets, but with anything but free market intentions.

We were shocked by 9/11 – and in our numb, confused, and regressed state we accepted homeland security, suspension of habeus corpus, Blackwater’s private army, and – blacker than that, a repudiation of all our principles – torture in our name.  With 9/11, Katrina, and now the BP oil spill, the largest and most connected companies are cleaning up – not the oil, but the money – and making it ever harder for the populace to escape the feudal control of these robber barons.  And the American people sit around waving tea bags against Obama’s ‘socialism’ – it is nonsense, it is misdirection, and we should be ashamed of what is being done this minute with our tacit and silent approval.

The Depression of the 1930’s was supposed to mark the end of laissez-faire, unregulated money men with a free hand.  We don’t remember, except for those of my parents’ age, how much suffering came about then.  The New Deal regulated banks and industries and forges an uneasy truce between a strong government providing the river banks for relatively free enterprise to flow within.  Starting with these foreign experiments under Eisenhower and Kennedy, rising to more ambitious schemes through Reagan and Clinton, the shock doctrine has finally come home from 2001 on.  This is fascism, pure and not so simple: the binding together of industry and government in a way not even envisioned by Eisenhower in his closing, warning speech about the military-industrial complex.

The reforms of health care and finance contemplated by Obama tinker at the edges of a machine inexorably designed to make the rich richer and the middle class and poor more confused and impotent.  According to Klein’s analysis, it is working out quite well for them so far.  It will end, as the Shah did, in revolution, but there will be hard times before and after such an event – hard, hard times of starvation and war.

She has films as well as this brilliant book, check out the websites or read it and weep.  I am surprised that no one has shot her or shut her up yet, because this is truth to power.  It is a sobering wake-up call, a hard headed look at what we have done, neither tin-foil hat frenzied nor liberal anti-business ranting.  The USA took a definite turn on the road of history, pretty much unnoticed by its overfed, under-educated, and now cowed populace.  If we do not notice and correct our wrong turn, we and most others on our planet are toast for a long Kali Yuga.

Thanks, Misty